Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Reading the Scriptures

This Lord's Day myself and another brother/friend will be ordained as elders of our church. Please pray for us. We're both still wet behind the ears. One of the responsibilities of elders in the Presbyterian Church is to assist in public worship, including the solemn and joyful duty of reading God's Word. I mentioned in a post last week the practicality of Bonhoeffer's Life Together. Here is what I mean. He actually addresses the proper way to publicly read Scripture. One might say this is in the way of personal preference or one man's opinion, but I believe he's right.

Often the difference between an experienced Christian and the novice becomes clearly apparent. It may be taken as a rule for the right reading of the Scriptures that the reader should never identify himself with the person who is speaking in the Bible. It is not I that am angered, but God; it is not I giving consolation, but God; it is not I admonishing, but God admonishing in the Scriptures. I shall be able, of course, to express the fact that it is God who is angered, who is consoling and admonishing, not by indifferent monotony, but only with inmost concern and rapport, as one who knows that he himself is being addressed. It will make all the difference between right and wrong reading of Scriptures if I do not identify myself with God but quite simply serve Him. Otherwise I will become rhetorical, emotional, sentimental, or coercive and imperative; that is, I will be directing the listeners' attention to myself instead of to the Word. But this is to commit the worst of sins in presenting the Scriptures.

If we may illustrate by an example in another sphere, we might say that the situation of the reader of Scripture is probably closest to that in which I read to others a letter from a friend. I would not read the letter as though I had written it myself. The distance between us would be clearly apparent as it was read. And yet I would also be unable to read the letter of my friend to others as if it were of no concern to me. I would read it with personal interest and regard. Proper reading of Scripture is not a technical exercise that can be learned; it is something that grows or diminishes according to one's own spiritual frame of mind. The crude, ponderous rendition of the Bible by many a Christian grown old in experience often far surpasses the most highly polished reading of a minister. In a Christian family fellowship one person may give counsel and help to others in this matter also.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (pp. 56-57)

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